"We cannot go back, we cannot go back. We'll get killed," a weeping Mohd Shamshad on Monday told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who got a first-hand view of the impact of Muzaffarnagar's deadly sectarian clashes.
Shamshad's 70-year-old cousin was knifed. As others fled, the old man was left to bleed to death.
The PM, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited the displaced survivors, mostly Muslims, and promised to repatriate them to their abandoned villages, but few appeared willing to take that “risky” chance.
The roughly two-hour guided tour began as soon as the trio’s chopper landed at a spot close to one of the largest among many makeshift relief camps – Bassi Kalan.
The majority of those displaced are camped in mosques by volunteers of the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, a Muslim organisation with roots in the area.
Nearly 50,000 people have left their homes and are living in 58 relief camps in western Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar and adjoining Shamli district.
At his second and final stop at Tawli, the PM told villagers, “Puri tarah se insaaf hoga. Muwafza bhi hoga (We’ll mete out justice. Compensation will be paid).”
As the three leaders reached out to victims of the rioting between Hindus and Muslims, both largely belonging to the soil-hardened Jat farming community, most alleged they suffered because the police and officials looked the other way.
“The PAC (police armed constabulary) helped them kill and beat us and drive us out,” Asifa Khatoon told Rahul.
Sonia and Rahul stopped by old women and elders, shaking their heads as victims recounted their tales of horror, while Singh did most of the talking.
At one point, Rahul took notes, as youth handed him letters. “Protect our land and cattle and give us security,” Afzal Ahmed said he wrote in Hindi in his letter.
Amid the trauma, Muzaffarnagar, barely 125 km northeast of Delhi, continued to limp back to normalcy. Authorities lifted the curfew, clamped down after violence erupted on September 7.
The riots that claimed 48 lives triggered heated arguments in the UP assembly on the opening day of the monsoon session.